Our culture defines repentance like this: feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.
Biblical repentance goes further:
“The repentance (metanoia) called for throughout the Bible is a summons to a personal, absolute and ultimate unconditional surrender to God as Sovereign. Though it includes sorrow and regret, it is more than that. … In repenting, one makes a complete change of direction (180° turn) toward God.”
I grew up a Lutheran, in our house we were not C&E Lutherans, where we occasionally attended, like on Christmas and Easter. No, my mom had some kind of built in radar and if the church doors opened, our family would be in attendance. Yes we would be late, but we would be there.
Lutherans have a liturgical service, and as part of that liturgy, we sang a lot. There were so many words and little songs. I was not an avid bible reader in those days. I didn’t realize that most of the words and the little songs were excerpts from the Bible. All the words drove me crazy as a kid but now I realize what we were doing, actually singing and reciting the Bible, as I have matured I now appreciate the hymnal writing and the writers and kind of miss the liturgical nature of the service.
My own personal bible reading recently took me to 1 John. As I read it I recognized it as part of the liturgy that I recited as a kid. Parts of Chapter 1&2 are part of the order of service.
“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.”
1 John 1:5-2:2 -NLT
In Jesus, there is forgiveness for sin, but we need to confess our sins.
When we were raising our kids and they did something wrong we would make them say that they were Sorry. In addition to saying sorry we would often have them tell us what they did that was wrong. They had to confess. They to verbalize what they had done wrong, what rule they had broken, or how they violated boundaries or hurt someone else. In this way they had to think about what they had done.
We recently had an opportunity to visit a Presbyterian Church and participated in their Sunday worship service. Part of their order of service was a printed confession that we read together as a congregation. I thought it was good. I will quote it here and hope that whoever wrote it gets the credit due them.
“Father, you have revealed your will to us. It is clear. No other gods. No idols. No misuses of your name. We are to worship weekly and honor our parents. There is to be no killing and what we do with our bodies must come under your intentions for sexuality. We are forbidden to steal and speak falsely about our neighbors. And internally our hearts are not to covet what others possess. Such commandments reveal our absolute need of Jesus Christ. Forgive us for ignoring your word and our failure to take your commandments seriously. We humbly repent and ask you to forgive us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hear us in your mercy as we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us.”
Then we corporately prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
I thought this was a very good way to remind us of what Gods standard is and then how we have failed to measure up. The confession is a condensed walk through the 10 commandments. We can forget where we fall short if we don’t use the measuring stick that God said is the standard. Jesus is our ruler both in that he is our King and he is the standard we measure ourselves against. The Ten Commandments are not a whacking stick to punish us when we fail, but a guide to live by and beacon to bring us back to Jesus for forgiveness when we fail.
“If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness…”
I can be prideful at times when I consider my avoidance of sin, not stealing, or lying or killing or cheating on my spouse, but Jesus took it even deeper when he said that if we hate someone we have killed them in our hearts, or if we look lustfully at another person, then we have already thought about the act and are guilty. God looks at and knows our hearts so even if we have clean hands, our hearts can be dirty.
In Psalm 51 we get to read a confession from a man who had an adulterous relationship, got the woman pregnant, then had her husband killed so he could cover it up. He thought he had gotten away with it but he was confronted by a friend.
This how the man, king David responded.
“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Psalm 51:4-7,10-12 NIV
I remembered this verse in part because it was a part of the liturgy that I recited every Sunday for most of my childhood and adolescence. Another part of remembered this verse because of the heartbreaking story that unfolds as I read through the Old Testament.
We all sin. We all break the rules in one way or another. The rules are not there to shame us but to guide us and bring us back, through confession and repentance, to a relationship with our loving Heavenly Father who sent his son Jesus to die to pay for all of our mistakes and failures, our sin.
So I say to myself, as well as to you who are reading this, repent and confess and be restored. Our God loves us and wants us to come home to him.